Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pt 1 - NZ Arrival and Auckland

Friday 12 February – Sydney to Auckland
So here we are sitting at gate 54 at Kingsford Smith International Airport. It has taken just over an hour from drop off by daughters, check in; clear customs; immigration and the duty free MAC counters on the hunt for some makeup for daughter ‘s girl friend. Boarding should commence at 5:35 pm, however some flights have been delayed by the thunderstorms that have been letting loose around the area this afternoon. It was a hot day in Sydney. 37C – 38C but it’s hard to resent the heat when the thunderstorms deliver the promised cooling rain.

To amuse myself while we wait I catalogue video from our south island trip. I haven’t bothered bringing a book. I plan to hit the Auckland book stores continuing my quest for some Frank Sargeson or other kiwi titles.

It’s almost 6:30 before we are called for boarding. No surprises with our cheap ticket prices we are way down the back of the plane. This is no problem of course except that we are among the last to get dinner service and by the time my teeth are sinking gratefully into the tasty chicken pie I could pretty much gnaw the leg off a horse. Hubby selects the lamb and rosemary pasta bake. Both main options come accompanied by bean salad and a serve of vanilla bean Kapiti ice cream for dessert. Kapiti ice cream really is a first class product.

As with our previous Air New Zealand flights the personal inflight entertainment keeps us amused. I manage to catch a fairly recent Australian movie called The Square. An original story by Joel Edgerton and it is directed by his brother Nash. As seems fairly typical for Australian movies it’s all a bit grim, but by no means predictable. I guess I would classify it as a cautionary tale. Joel Edgerton of course also plays one of the central characters. Great actor. He played Stanley to Cate Blanchett’s Blanche in the Sydney Theatre Company production of A Streetcar Named Desire that recently won great acclaim in Washington DC and New York.

I follow The Square with a couple of episodes of b-guided TV. We travel the Marlborough Sounds and then explore Auckland. I make a mental note to be sure and visit the excellent aviation museum when in the Marlborough region, and note that a visit to Molten at Mt Eden does indeed look tempting (already penciled in but not booked yet). Too bad we won’t have time to visit Gina’s pizza and pasta bar or some of the other excellent looking bars and restaurants around Auckland. Our dye is cast. In typical fashion I have our eating plan well and truly mapped out!

We make our approach over Auckland on a clear mild night. The lights of the city and the motorways a brilliant fairyland spectacle as the city wends it’s way around a myriad of bays and inlets. Beautiful.

Touch down just after midnight, a great first impression is made by a fabulous carved archway decorated with touches of paua through which we must pass on our way to immigration. We have e-passports so head for the smartgate to have our first experience of face recognition technology then it’s not long before we are retrieving our luggage and heading through quarantine. Nothing to declare this is pretty speedy and they simply xray all your stuff to check up on you on your way through.
We follow the signs to the shuttles and find enthusiastically friendly Super Shuttle staff keen to take us in hand . We prebooked so we get shuffled onto the appropriate vehicle and we make our way around the various accommodations of the other passengers.

What a contrast Auckland is to Christchurch. It’s dark so in many ways a comparison is difficult, but here in Auckland the roads are much bigger and the motorway is in the process of being upgraded to four lanes each way. This is a metropolis. The uber-urban vibe is quite a contrast to Christchurch with it’s grace and elegance. Our shuttle driver asks if it’s our first time in New Zealand. First time in the North Island I reply. He advises that “we’re crazier up here”. “well we should fit right in then!” I reply. Auckland has a buzz. Young people dressed for a night on the town make their way along the streets.

Rocking up at Quay West the clocks are making rapid progress towards 2am. The lobby is nicely appointed but a bit stale smelling. We have a bit of an adventure when our room cards don’t work in the lift, but this is quickly sorted and with growing alarm when the corridors likewise don’t smell well aired, we’re walking into our apartment… which to my great relief is just fine and beautifully furnished.

We unwind, and I add to my trip journal, serenaded by a droll kiwi on the inhouse entertainment cheerfully explaining that should we wish to access the adult options on the menu the titles will NOT, repeat will NOT appear on our bill. I have not before come across an inhouse system that had an actual human host to walk you through how to operate it. There seems to be a good range of movies on the movie link network…. where “I have the power in my hands” apparently. Well time to hit the sack. It’s wonderful to be back in New Zealand.

Saturday February 13 - Auckland and Devonport
Up at body clock time 5:45. Nothing unusual there but after such a late night we both feel like death. I drag myself awake as local time is slipping away and we need to adjust. I promise myself never to take another similarly timed flight again! Kills us.
Although one of the cheapest options at Quay West the view from our apartment is pleasant, looking out towards the bridge and the edges of viaduct harbour.

I spend a little time mucking about with the camera. Also need to access internet to download our itinerary which I forgot to print off before we left home. In Quay West internet is $5 for 15 mins with better deals for longer periods, but pricey in all ranges. I download the itinerary off gmail. Phew. Hubby says that Quay West has some sort of printing service. They also have a gym but I’ll hopefully get some exercise walking in the course of our sightseeing.

Plan for today is to get the ferry across to Devonport. We finally set off after 9 am and wander down towards the harbour. We take a detour into a Westfields shopping centre hoping for an ATM. As we wander around we must be looking a bit lost as a lady comes over and offers advice about the machines. She lived for years in Sydney. We ask for directions to the closest supermarket and this is, as we expected, the local Countdown (aka Woolworths in a thin disguise). Cash replenished I realize I haven’t brought sun screen and I’ve left my hat in the room so our supermarket adventure becomes a matter of urgency. We turn in the direction the lady indicated and find a delightful mini farmer’s market operating. The signage on surrounding buildings indicates that this is a regular Saturday thing from 8:30 – 12:30. Less a produce market than food stall heaven it is a wonderful diversion. Not having broken our fast we sample an Israeli pastry the name of which now escapes me ($3). Rounding the corner a hawker invites us to sample their venison sausages. They smell good and after tasting we opt for a sausage on a French roll ($5). Turns out to have quite a kick to it. We look around at tempting stalls of fruit and French pastries. Breads. We sample a freshly made pita bread with nutella. Tasty and satisfying. ($1). Noting some tempting stalls with potential picnic fare we head off in the direction of Countdown. It’s a bit of a treck and we feel like we’re going into the unknown and away from the action. A quick wander through selecting some fruit, milk, kiwi cheese in wax. It looks like one they had on the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. Fingers crossed. Cereal, fruit, shampoo… almost forgot the sunscreen again. Pretty soon we’re heading back towards Quay West.

Fortuitously our route takes us past the memorial for the Rainbow Warrior which is a mosaic on the street in front of the site where the Greenpeace vessel was bombed and sunk by the French secret service. A quick photo and we turn to the south and head back to the farmers market. Now around 11 am the market is much busier. There is a musician playing and there’s a short queue for one of my target stalls. I fill in some time buying a punnet of blueberries ($3). Then we manage to get a space for tasting some tamarillo infused vinegar, dukkah, tamarillo paste and horopito olive oil. The horopito is a native plant and infuses a sort of peppery taste to the oil. Yum. I settle on a twin pack of 100 ml tamarillo vinegar and horopito olive oil ($18) and a small jar of tamarillo paste ($9?). Finally we select some smoked blue cod and some smoked mussels and we think we’re pretty much done for our picnic tomorrow.

Back to drop of the supplies and change into some shorts then it’s down to the wharves once again. Ah, that’s right, we really must get a road atlas today. Whitcoulls in Westfields wasn’t quite open when we passed earlier but we duck back in and pick up both a North Island road atlas and an Auckland street directory. While I’m here I make some enquiries about Frank Sargeson titles. None in stock. They are a special order. Probably take a couple of weeks as they are apparently available from a NZ supplier. Hmm. I need something to read so I pick up Cousins by Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera’s new book. The Trowenna Sea. This one seems doubly appropriate as it is a story of Maori sent in chains to Maria Island in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania). Though this is fiction apparently there were in fact Maori convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies.

Hubby takes the books back to the room while I head down to the quay to admire the Queen Victoria. (love those Cunard ships). I missed her on her first visit to Sydney a year or so ago so I feel very lucky to see her here today. We loiter about picking up the odd brochure for some Auckland attractions we fancy. 12 oclock sees us boarding the ferry to Devonport and before long we are admiring the views as Auckland city slips away and Devonport approaches across the green water of the harbour.
The harbour is dominated by mostly industrial infrastructure, with some residential areas hugging low hills with shrubby trees. The southern shore across to the east a bit looks inviting and worth exploring. Devonport displays an abundance of heritage weatherboard cottages. Very lovely little cottages.

In no time we are disembarking and heading out of the wharf complex filled with cafes and food outlets, art dealers and second hand book shops. I stop in one of the book shops. “”do you have any Frank Sargeson?” I ask. No hesitation on the part of the lady behind the counter “No. We don’t get much of him”. Her tone suggests that Mr Sargeson’s books are prized by those that own them and snapped up by others. Another lady in the shop helpfully suggests that she thinks she’s seen Michael King’s biography of Sargeson in the bigger book store up the road. We give thanks all round and head on our way.
There’s a festive atmosphere and the place is busy with people but not too crowded. A wagon drawn by a trio of lovely heavy horses waits at the wharf for passengers. There are food stalls and a woodfired pizza wagon.

As we cross the road Hubby spies a sign on the corner. Peter Raos Gallery this way. Great. I was heading to the i-site for directions. This will save time, of which we are short. Along this stretch facing the waterfront, another gallery is just too tempting to resist. Crammed full of paintings, pottery and arts of all kinds we spend some time admiring their wares. My goodness there are a lot of tasteful but striking kiwi pieces. Flowering pohutukawa feature prominently and I make a mental resolution that next time I come to the north I really must come when the pohutukawa is in flower. I am sorely tempted by some cushions with weta, or pohutakawa and any number of iconic kiwiana cropped into richly coloured velvets in tones just right to look great in our new living room which is only in the very first steps of being kitted out. ...however little furnishings of this type are yet to feature on my shopping list and our money is slated for other things. We resist some georgeous lava glass vases. There are green ones and red ones and there’s a white version with darker brown flecks, which is my favourite of the assortment. With a sigh we move along to Peter Raos Gallery which is our prime destination today.

We have long admired Peter’s work in glass having first purchased one of his lily vases (in white with rose pink glass) over a decade ago. There are others in the shop when we arrive and we move slowly around the display cabinets, pausing to examine in detail the magnificent pacific series with their submerged coral reefs and vibrantly coloured fish. Extraordinary. The most expensive pieces in the gallery are vases and paper weights with pohutakawa leaves on them. The detail of the leaf structure and colour patterning is nothing short of exquisite. The technical skill required is extraordinary. Delicate curves of stems. Colours ranging from the fresh green of newly matured leaves to the reds and oranges the fallen leaves acquire, each leaf is a work of art marked with crisp clarity against the background glass. Photos and websites could not do these pieces justice.

As I am admiring these beautiful works of art, Peter finishes with his other visitor and noticing that I seem intrigued by the leaf design pieces sparks up a conversation with us. “they must take an extraordinary level of concentration to make” I comment. “Yes, they do require a lot of concentration”. We talk on and eventually I move across to the cabinet full of lily vases. Oh my, they have the rich blue version I have wanted for sooo long but had thought was no longer available as it's not been pictured on the website. Wow they have gone up in price since our last purchase! Peter is pretty chuffed to find we bought one of his vases from way back when he was supplying the Sturt gallery in Mittagong. As the discussion proceeds my excitement builds as it seems that my darling is about to buy me the spectacular leaf paperweight and the blue lily vase to match the pink one we have on display at home. I’m almost holding my breath. We discuss it over dinner and we realize that virtually every significant piece of art glass I own hubby has bought for me like this as an on the spot surprise. What a sweetie!! What an awesome souvenir of our (somewhat delayed) 25th anniversary trip! I'm smiling ear to ear.

During the conversation with Peter the subject of the lily glassware I saw in Chicago comes up. Turns out that Peter used to supply an outlet in Chicago but when he stopped it was apparently the inspiration for them commissioning the small lily perfume bottles, such as I bought as one of my souvenirs of that awesome city, from another source. It’s a pretty little bottle, but certainly not a patch on a Peter Raos original. It is interesting to have both in my little collection.

Grinning ear to ear we walk back down the street noting that there’s not a heck of a lot of time until we need to get back to the city if we are to see the movie I had my eye on at the Academy Cinema. The Academy claims to be Auckland’s only arthouse cinema. In the time remaining in Devonport we wander up the street of interesting shops. I wander into another second hand and rare books store and ask about Sargeson. No joy there either. Great shelf of kiwi fiction that I could spend a lot more time browsing but time is of the essence. Back down at the wharf a mobile wood fired pizza vendor is spruiking their wares. Oh why not. We order a margherita pizza with fresh basil. ($12). Delicious!!

On virtually no sleep I am working off the wrong end of the ferry timetable. I realize my mistake when we see the ferry scooting off just after 1:15. Oh well, this gives us time to eat the pizza without a rush. We are sorry to be leaving Devonport. There is no question I could spend an entire day here pottering about exploring. What with the literary walks and the naval museum and cute shops of all descriptions. Busy but not crowded. It’s just right.

Waiting to board the ferry we watch an interesting vessel with ornate sails maneuvering on the water. It makes a beautiful sight.

Back in the city time is pressing so we jump in a cab and between us manage to find our way up to the Academy. Turns out the Academy is not so good at keeping their own website up to date. Flicks website showed the correct session times and we have missed the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I know, I know, why allocate precious sightseeing time to a foreign movie... I have heard rumours this one will be released in Sydney in March, but I have not been able to confirm it and I badly want to see the Swedish version of this story.. so wasn't taking chances..and anyway we're really tired. Oh well. On the up side there is a documentary called “land of the long white cloud” starting at 2:55. We explore the neighbourhood for a while then return to take our positions in the tiny little screen room. Hubby tucking into an icecream and nursing a stubby of Mac’s Gold All Malt Lager.
The land of the long white cloud poster says that “Fish meet philosophy on Ninety Mile Beach”. This sums it up nicely. The doco is set at what is described by one featured fisherman as the richest fishing competition in the world. The Snapper Classic. Over a period of 5 days surf casting off ninety mile beach, the biggest snapper each day nets $3,000 for the fisherman. Largest snapper for the comp attracts $50,000. Quite a bait for the local anglers and the shore is lined with fishermen and surf rods.

In all weathers they front up and do their bit. Impressive stormy weather, fine balmy weather, they are out there. As the comp progresses the doco makers take to asking each fisherman what they think about some deep and meaningful issues. Do you belief in an afterlife? What about love? And people open up. It’s an intriguing 75 mins. My favourite line came from a local woman. “It’s a beautiful place up here. Beautiful place up here…. Can’t say too much for some of the people… but it’s a beautiful place up here.”

Movie concluded we wander back to the apartment via first Lorne St and then Queen. Passing a tempting and original looking asian pancake outlet, not much more than a hole in the wall. We pass little alleyways with street tables on little restaurants and cafes. Masses of little avenues for exploration everywhere we look. With advertisements for Kelly Tarleton’s joint and the maritime museum, there’s so much to see. As we walk we discuss how much there is to do. I find it hard to fathom why you read so often that there’s no need to spend virtually any time in Auckland. We find it fascinating just being here. .. of course it doesn’t hurt at all having watched the b-guided tv Auckland edition. However even on our own observation it seems to us that Auckland is awash with great international food outlets, and we enjoy museums and art galleries and historic houses, and nice gardens. Auckland has plenty of all these things. It’s great.
Finally we collapse for a short rest before dinner. 6:20 we’re heading out the door on our way to Soul Bar and Bistro in Viaduct Harbour. It’s an easy walk on a balmy evening. Viaduct Harbour is overwhelmingly similar to Darling Harbour in Sydney, with an overlay of Opera Bar buzz... or should that be Darling Harbour is similar to Viaduct harbour…. Who know’s. Doesn’t really matter I guess. It’s a humming spot for a meal. Soul does not appear to have our reservation which was confirmed by email 6 or more weeks ago. Hmm. No problem however and we are seated inside but with good views out over the marina.

We start with Soul Chowder for hubby and I go for the South Island whitebait fritters with lemon butter sauce. Both very nice. The Chowder with a strong overlay of corn and accompanied by a beautiful slab of lovely soft fresh sourdough bread. The whitebait fritters were more like a whitebait omelet in my kitchen parlance but very enjoyable.
The service is attentive and one waiter in particular who seems to be our main guy, is really friendly and shares a joke with us. He was great. A real asset to the business. We note also that many of the staff are a little older than you often see at home. Professionals rather than students filling in. Excellent.

Hubby amuses himself with a Speights Gold Medal Ale between courses and we chat about the prospects of the footy match later this evening as we wait for our mains. Hubby has opted for the crab and prawn linguine which has plenty of shredded crab flesh and has a bit of a chili kick to it. I have gone for the Hawke’s Bay lamb rack with braised cos and and broad beans accompanied by cheesy potato bake. A side of beans. This lamb has a completely different flavour to the lamb at home. Though just lately, there has been an increase in restaurants carrying specialty varieties of meat, different breeds apparently having quite different characters. This Hawkes Bay lamb is reminiscent of the Suffolk lamb we’ve had elsewhere. Very strong flavor.
We joke with our waiter as he brings us the dessert menu before we ask for it. It’s a tough choice but as a gesture of reconciliation, we decide to go for the pavlova which we consider a highly risky choice. It is so rare to buy pavlova anywhere that is even vaguely a competitor for the home made version. What you pay doesn’t seem to matter. Our second selection is the chocolate, toffee and banana pudding. I’m curious about the chocolate etc pudding. Could be the flavours may find it hard to compete with eachother, but no, it is a delicious combination. The pavlova raises some eyebrows when it arrives. A couple of perfect little mounds of soft centred meringue. The plate smeared with lemon curd, with sliced kiwi fruit, fresh lemon jelly and tiny sprigs of new mint leaves all arranged artistically on the plate. That’s a pav? Interesting interpretation…. Well…. The pavlova was superb. Simply superb. The mint was the crowning glory. A fresher ligher more delicious summer pudding you would go a very long way to find. Hubby jokes with our waiter… “ok you win. As an Aussie I have to say that Pavlova was absolutely brilliant. You win” “What was that?” our waiter replies. We dutifully repeat and we all laugh.

Hubby has not been able to resist the Soul Trinkets. This is a tray of petit fours to have with coffee. A generous selection of tasty morsels. Nice, but not a competitor for similar complementary things offered by places like Aria in Sydney… sorry but Aria has set the highest bar on petit fours in our experience… very very hard to compete with any of their miniature offerings and their macadamia nougat is to die for. Even just the smell as they bring the tray to the table is a mouth watering delight… but I digress. We claim our bill. $191 including beer. We’ve had a delightful dining experience here at Soul. OK if I wanted to be picky I would comment that overall if you were judging the meal on food alone, I would say that while Soul produces nice food in a professional atmosphere, it’s not quite up to “hatted” standard which is the measure at home. However we’re really just talking fine levels of finesse and of course once converted, Soul is also slightly less expensive. The main thing for us tonight is that we have very much enjoyed our visit to Soul. We have enjoyed the food. Enjoyed the friendly service. Enjoyed the buzz and beauty of Viaduct Harbour. We’d certainly come back.
Home time and we decide to walk around via the waterfront, past the Maritime Museum. A lovely balmy night. An easy enjoyable walk. We’re home in plenty of time for the kick off of a momentous sporting moment for Australia. The Indigenous All Stars match. In this match the best of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander rugby league players are pitched against the best of the rest, including kiwis. (I guess we should note that most kiwis prefer rugby union, so most of their best play that code rather than league). We are looking forward to a tough game, and expect the Indigenous All Stars to win. The indigenous players are not only very talented, but they want this so badly. Have wanted it badly for a long time. I have to say I want it for them too. Great to see the indigenous supporters out in mass screaming pride, in themselves, in their team. It’s awesome.
I leave you briefly with the score at 10 : 4. Indigenous in front. The Indigenous All Stars have held up 2 tries so far. For international readers, this means they got in for what appears a certain try, but with shear strength and heart the defenders prevent the player grounding the ball. It’s rare. Two in one game says everything about the quality of the defense and the intensity of the play.

.....13 minutes to go and the NRL stars are making breaks. Indigenous are scrambling and look like they are tiring. Can they hang on? Gasp. Benji Marshall, kiwi player extraordinaire, goes in for a try for NRL. Now it is 10:8. … the NRL stars are going for the second try. It was a difficult kick and would only at best have drawn them level. If they can get the second try they will edge in front. No. Indigenous retain the lead.
It is a tight game with either team scoring and the other coming back with a try in reply. Final score indigenous 16 NRL 12. The great Jonathan Thurston playing his usual key role in the victory for the indigenous team.
I am out of it by the time the presentations and speeches are on, but hubby tells me the indigenous captain presented the ARL captain with a didgeridoo worked on by all the indigenous players. This event is a great new tradition.

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